Stroll by Jay Evensen's office some afternoon and you're likely to hear his computer speak to him in Swedish, "Klockan ar midnatt, har ar nyheter" - It's midnight and here is the news.
You might say the Deseret News editorial chief is a white boy in search of his roots.He tunes in to several Scandinavian radio stations that broadcast live (or with a few minutes' delay) on the Internet. The signals are surprisingly crisp, closer to local FM stereo than to the crackly short-wave signals that once sustained those who follow the news in distant lands.
"It's `Ekots Nyheter' and these are the news broadcasts from the official Swedish radio," Evensen explains. "It's on the hour every hour. They're available about 20 minutes after the actual broadcast."
Evensen's mother was born in Norway while his father is of Norwegian descent. He learned Norwegian at home and mastered Swedish for the LDS Church mission he served in Sweden.
Like many who visit other countries or travel by armchair, he enjoys honing his language skills and keeping up with the news. But it's more than a hobby for a man whose job involves commenting on international events.
"The other day I turned in, and they were talking about President Clinton easing sanctions on Cuba. This was the first time I'd heard about it. So I went and searched the wires. I couldn't find anything on our wires."
As is often the case, European news media are quicker with international news than the stations in the United States. Hearing the report out of Sweden gave Evensen a two-hour head start on his editorial. The station, Radio P3 - one of four Swedish government stations - is based at (http://www.sr.se/ekot/nyheter).
Evensen also tunes in to Radio One in Oslo, Norway, another government station. With a 20-second delay from their live broadcasts, "they have news on the hour, and it's almost like a top-40 station," he said. Radio One is based at (http://www.sn.no/radio1).
Throughout the world, people are tuning in to the 1990s answer to shortwave radio, live radio broadcasts on the Internet by way of a system, called RealAudio. For the listener, the software is free: just download it and install it on the computer.
RealNetworks, the Seattle company that distributes RealAudio, can be reached at (http://www.real.com/index.html).
RealAudio 5.0, the version now available, even allows online video streaming, though the pictures are jumpy at best. With RealAudio listening, the sound quality varies drastically. Some stations are as bright as the local radio. Others pause frequently in the midst of sounds like the garbled yowls of drowning cats.
On March 17, a rowdy and profane St. Patrick's Day concert was broadcast live over the Internet via RealAudio from a pub in Chicago. It had all the ambiance and flubs of a live concert, and the clarity was more impressive than the singer's talent.
Other sites offer libraries of Islamic music, tunes from Hindi movies, religious teachings. Arguably, the most interesting sites are those where local radio stations pipe their programs straight onto the Internet.
Consulting an Internet site that maintains such statistics, a RealNetworks spokeswoman said 4,508 radio stations worldwide broadcast on the Internet. (She asked that her name not appear in print.)
"Probably 95 percent of them are using our technology. Ten percent of those are actually Internet only," without any outside radio waves at all.
To receive RealAudio, a user needs at least a 486 computer and a modem capable of 14.4 kilobits per second. The minimum system won't sound great, the spokeswoman conceded, "but it'll sound like AM radio, and obviously the faster your modem the better it sounds.
"But we really market it to the 28.8 (kilobits) user, since that's the standard now."
Sometimes a song blaring in from Indonesia will suddenly stop in midnote. "Net congestion" comes the note on the computer. "Rebuffering." It means that too many people are trying to tune in at once to a limited resource, she said. Stations pay for the number of information streams they want to broadcast, and smaller outfits can't afford to send out as much information to the world.
The most users that a big station can reach at once is about 50,000.
To find stations, type "RealAudio radio countries" on a search engine. A sampling:
- New Zealand. The RealAudio station there is maintained by Auckland University students at (http://www.95bfm.co.nz/bfm.html).
The station doesn't produce any sound at first contact. There is no explanation, until the searcher clicks on a button that says "Cool stuff." Then comes a message, "We're experiencing a few technical difficulties with our live internet [the station did not capitalize the name] broadcast. We're sorry. We promise not to do anything exciting on the air until it's up and running again. Bear with us. Love you."
After all that, when you click the on-air button, the sound comes in fairly well. But to the disappointment of someone seeking exotic sounds, the voice seems to belong to Madonna.
- Indonesia. Oddly, the world's fourth-most-populous country has only two RealAudio stations. Odder still, both are in the northern Sumatra city of Medan.
They are Prapanca FM, at (http://www.prapanca-fm.com) and KISS 104.75 FM at (http://www.kiss-fm.com). Reception varies from frequent rebuffering to superior sound. The talk and ads are delightful, a few English words thrown in, lots of reverb, fast discussions in Indonesian. But then comes the music: American pops!
- Australia. At one site, (http://www.96fm.com.au) the announcer says they have "to-dye's best music." Great quality, like FM at home. Unfortunately, much of it seems to be Western U.S. music.
- South Africa. Four stations have live broadcasts on the Internet at the site (http://www.qradio.net). When it's not too congested to tap in, they are delightful. One featured a woman speaking in an African language.
- India. All India Radio, (http://air.kode.net/index1.html), is a powerhouse. After registering online, the listener is treated to high-quality radio broadcasts with ads and music in Indian languages.
- Turkey. Several great stations, with one (http://www.turkiye.org/radyo) playing amazingly clear local music. It is of such high quality that a listener is well advised to run a line from the computer's earphone jack to a tape recorder and copy it.
Three stations in Utah provide exceptional service via RealAudio. KBYU, the classical music channel at Brigham Young University has lovely stereo broadcasts at (http://www.kbyu.org/fm/realaudio.html). The other two are KSOS Oldies 800 and KLZX, a rock station, both owned by Brent Larson, Ogden. They are located at (http://www.ksos.com) and (http://www.klzx.com).
A couple of other Utah stations would not come on, click as one might.
People download the player for free, Larson said, but the broadcaster buys the software to put the signals on the Internet. "That's where RealAudio makes their money. They charge quite a bit for their software."
How does KSOS or KLZX make back its investment? There's no financial advantage yet, Larson said.
"It's like all things on the Internet, some of them are done in hopes it will create something like that."
But it is valuable. Last summer KSOS broadcast the Ogden Raptors minor league baseball games, whose players come from around the country. At least a dozen parents and other relatives "were able to listen to those Ogden Raptor games over the Internet from places like South Carolina, Florida, Southern California," he said.
The same thing happens in the fall when the station puts Weber State University football on the Net. Parents of athletes from California could click onto the station's Internet site and "actually get to listen to the game just like it was a local station," he said.
If he's not certain about the profit, why does he do it? "It just adds to the enjoyment of some people," Larson said.